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D.C. financial control board chairman Andrew Brimmer didn’t act like his usual autocratic, crotchety self on March 20, when he announced his intention to retire June 30. He let other members answer media questions directed at him. He indicated that he hadn’t read newspaper coverage of a palace revolt aimed at denying him a second term as chairman. He even touted the leader of that revolt, control board member Constance Newman, as a worthy successor.
Now LL knows why: Brimmer didn’t mean any of it. And his power to foresee the future would put Jeanne Dixon to shame.
Just six weeks after announcingagainst his willthat he didn’t want a second control board term, Brimmer is vying for the title of the Comeback Septuagenarian. (He’s much too grandfatherly to take the 1992 title of the Comeback Kid away from Bill Clinton.)
“Dr. Brimmer will be the next chairman,” a control board staffer predicted this week. It was difficult for LL to tell whether the staffer made the prediction out of joy or despair, since Brimmer’s unpopularity may be highest among his own serfs.
When Brimmer appeared to exit in March, his harshest critic, D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, praised the fallen chairmanan act that required considerable self-restraint. Norton might have chosen tougher words had she foreseen Brimmer’s sudden return to grace.
The delegate’s office appears to have played an unwitting role in Brimmer’s change of fortune. In recent weeks, Norton staffers have hammered the White House and Congress on the importance of keeping a Democrat atop the control board. Along with other die-hard Democrats, Norton’s aidesif not the delegate herselfare fomenting opposition to the rumored elevation of Newman to the chair because she is a Republican, a dirty word in D.C.
Appointing a Republican to preside over the short-term future of this predominantly Democratic city is viewed by many as akin to putting the tobacco companies in charge of improving adolescent health.
The conservative Washington Times last Sunday devoted its lead editorial to promoting Newman as the board’s next chairman. Newman couldn’t have asked for a more subversive endorsement: The Times has backed every Republican-led intrusion on home rule, from stripping Mayor-For-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. of his powers to further eroding public education in the District by supporting vouchers for private schools.
The Republicans are likely to maintain their grip on Congress for the remainder of this century and may even wrest the White House from miserly Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats in two years. So D.C. Democrats aren’t too eager to hand over the last vestige of their party’s rule in the nation’s capital. Even a moderate, Carol Schwartz-style Republican like Newman would be unacceptable at the helm of the control board with the GOP controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Never mind that Newman appears to be cut from the same political cloth as Ward 3 Democratic Councilmember Kathy Patterson and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, and would probably make a better Democrat than registered Democrat Brimmer. Newman has won over the predominantly Democratic 13-member D.C. Councilonly At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil has broken ranks to back Brimmer’s return.
Norton insists her role in selecting new control board members is limited to passing names along to departing Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines. Raines has pledged to send his recommendations to President Clinton before resigning May 20 to become the multimillion-dollar chairman of Fannie Mae.
Of course, Norton would be more likely to sponsor a Sense-of-the-Congress resolution honoring Barry than to sit on the sidelines while the White House chooses the next control board.
Norton has wanted to sack Brimmer from the moment she discovered that her former statehood ally wasn’t the patsy she had expected. Almost immediately after taking office in June of 1995, Brimmer afforded Norton the same treatment he extended to all elected D.C. officials: the stiff arm. In Brimmer’s view, Norton was just part of a ruling class that had flunked the first two decades of home rule and had to be forced to complete remedial classes in self-government before they could be allowed to speak up again.
Norton’s problem is that she doesn’t have a stellar alternative to Newman’s ascension and Brimmer’s comeback. Numerous possibilities have been floated, the most notable of which are Washington Convention Center Authority head Terrence Golden, D.C. Agenda head Jim Gibson, former D.C. Councilmembers Bill Lightfoot and John Ray, and former D.C. Corporation Counsel John Payton.
The mere mention of Payton, a member of the discredited administration of former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, reflects the desperation of those seeking an alternative to Newman and Brimmer.
Golden turned down an appointment to the control board three years ago. His selection now certainly would cinch his agency’s plans to build a new convention center at Mount Vernon Square. But Golden’s wide docket of business interests would cripple him with recurring conflicts of interest as board chairman.
Gibson is no less tainted. Opponents view him as a shill for big business interests around town and decry his coziness with the Federal City Council, a collection of rich and famous Washingtonians who pull the strings on huge city development projects. D.C. Agenda has been the prime lobbying force behind the plan to resurrect a $50 million, public-private Economic Development Corporation to oversee downtown revitalization. The Senate killed the proposal last year as too bureaucratic, but the White House and D.C. councilmembers have revived it this year.
If D.C. Democrats succeed in sidetracking Newman’s once seemingly unstoppable move into the control board’s head chair, they may find Brimmer waiting in the wings as the only viable alternative.
“Norton wants somebody she can control, just like she thought she could control Brimmer,” notes a D.C. government source. “And she can’t find anybody like that who can trump Brimmer’s financial management skills.” Despite the board’s missteps on D.C. police and the school system, Brimmer has presided over the city’s first return to budgetary black in a long time.
Raines has stated that the White House is concerned about maintaining “continuity” between this board and the next one, which would require keeping at least one or two members of the current board. Board members Joyce Ladner and Ed Singletary have announced that they will exit when their terms expire June 6. Stephen Harlan, also a Republican, seemed sure enough about Brimmer’s return to announce recently that he won’t serve a second term. And if Newman’s coup fails, count her out, as well.
Brimmer in recent weeks has demonstrated his eagerness to return, proclaiming repeatedly that he’s available to continue as chairman should the Newman juggernaut end up in the ditch. The anti-Newman forces got some unexpected encouragement from Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who has publicly mused over the propriety of elevating Newman after she played such an obvious role in forcing Brimmer to step down.
Newman courted local support by keeping District officials informed of control board activities, defying the secrecy that Brimmer insisted on. When Brimmer went to the White House in mid-January for a meeting with Raines, Newman alerted her council allies, who immediately registered a protest against giving Brimmer a second term.
Davis is the architect of the 1995 law creating the D.C. control board and wants to make it workwhether that means elevating Newman, returning Brimmer, or settling on an alternative. But he also wants to keep Norton from pulling her wild-woman routine and going off on him over disagreements on the new board.
“Eleanor has Davis on a short leash,” notes a congressional source. “He can’t stray too far.”
Davis is not the only congressional Republican hesitant to usher in the Newman era. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who chairs the House D.C. appropriations subcommittee, is known to favor an entirely new board and staff. Taylor and others believe the board missed its “window of opportunity” to make substantive changes, outlined by Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell in congressional testimony last year. Rendell told congressional leaders that the window gets slammed after the first 18 months.
Newman’s association with former Mayor Kellyas head of the federal Office of Personnel Management, she offered her know-how and resources to the new mayor in 1991, with no apparent resultsmay also become an issue in her quest for the control board’s top spot.
For the past several weeks, Norton, like Moses on Mount Sinai, has been laboring over a document that spells out her Ten Commandments for the next control board. She has given her document to Raines and Clinton, but has not released it publicly.
Sources close to Norton, however, have gotten a glimpse of her first and last commandment: Thou shalt place no control board gods above me.
He can talk the talk, but he can’t walk the walk.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, slowed by a foot injury suffered recently during his morning jog, has postponed his mayoral campaign announcement to May 30. Evans had been scheduled to kick off his campaign May 16 and then walk through sections of each of the city’s eight wards to greet voters. A film crew had been lined up to record the journey for future campaign commercials.
With his mobility in doubt, the candidate decided to delay the kick-off for two weeks and avoid the risk of wasting the film crew’s time in the event he was still hobbled by his injury.
And At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil has been forced to change his May 16 announcement plansbut not because of injury. Brazil will still hold his kick-off on that date but has moved the site from Hine Junior High School to Watkins Elementary to accommodate a citywide cheerleaders convention at Hine.
At Hine, at least, he would have been ensured an enthusiastic full house.
•Although they didn’t always get along with him as council chairman, councilmembers this year are eager to invoke the memory of Dave Clarke in hopes that his citywide popularity will rub off. And the nod of approval from Clarke’s widow, Carol Clarke, may be the most coveted endorsement on the local campaign circuit this year.
In early April, Carol Clarke stood next to Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith and gave her blessing as he launched his bid for a fifth term. This week, she is endorsing Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous as he begins his quest for the mayor’s office with an announcement on Saturday.
(Maybe Evans can get a little of the Clarke magic, too, and preserve his original announcement date, by borrowing the late chairman’s bike. That way he can ride through the wards instead of limp along.)
Now that Chavous is making it official, he will have to open up his campaign events to the media. An April 24 meet-and-greet for Chavous at the Dupont Circle residence of attorney Gary Kohlman was closed abruptly, without objection from the candidate, after reporters got wind of it.CP
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